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Lesson 29: You’re on the Team! (Colossians 4:7-18)

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June 26, 2016

A major source of frustration for pastors is what is called the 80-20 rule: Twenty percent of people in the church do 80 percent of the work, while the 80 percent attend church, enjoy the service, and leave without ever getting involved.

Can you imagine what it would be like if 80 percent of your body were paralyzed? Quadriplegics can function and have productive and meaningful lives, but they’re limited in what they can do. Churches can limp along with only 20 percent of the body functioning, but they could do much more if every member was fully engaged in serving the Lord in line with his or her spiritual gifts.

Our text is one that you tend to skim over in your Bible reading. It’s a bunch of names of people who don’t mean much to us. You may wonder why God inspired these verses to be in His Word. But, actually, there is so much here that I couldn’t fit it all into a single message! The main idea is:

Christians are on a team devoted to serve Christ.

Even though the apostle Paul was one of the most gifted men in the history of the church, he was not a one-man-show. Surrounding him was a team of faithful people devoted to serving Jesus Christ. In Colossians 4:7-18, we see the team and learn a lot about how God wants His church to function. It’s striking that in this short letter, where Paul devotes only one verse to lust and greed, one to anger, one to wives, one to husbands, and one to fathers, he spends the final 12 verses mentioning various people with him and in Colossae. Clearly, Paul wasn’t the only guy doing ministry! He was part of a team. We learn seven things about this team and its ministry (but I can only cover six in this message).

1. The church is not a one-man-show, but a team effort.

While Paul may have been like a player-coach, he wasn’t the only player on the team. Let’s look at the team roster:

Tychicus: Paul calls him (Col. 4:7) “our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant.” He was a Gentile from Asia Minor (Acts 20:4) who had traveled with Paul at the close of his third missionary journey. He was obviously trustworthy, since Paul sent the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, and probably Philemon back to Asia with him. He may have been sent to relieve Titus in Crete so that Titus could join Paul for a while (Titus 3:12). Later, as Paul faced the end of his life in prison in Rome, he sent Tychicus to Ephesus again, where he took over Timothy’s pastoral duties so that Timothy could leave to join Paul (2 Tim. 4:12, 21).

Onesimus: He accompanied Tychicus on this trip. He was a runaway slave whom Paul led to Christ during his house arrest in Rome. Paul was now sending him back to his master, Philemon. But he doesn’t mention that fact in this public letter to the church. If it hadn’t been for the private correspondence to Philemon, which later became public, we wouldn’t know that Onesimus was a slave, let alone a runaway. Paul calls him (Col. 4:9), “our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number.”

Aristarchus: Paul calls him (Col. 4:10), “my fellow prisoner.” In Philemon (23, 24, written about the same time), Paul calls him a fellow worker and calls Epaphras (Col. 4:12) his fellow prisoner. It may be that the two men traded off living in the same quarters with Paul. Or, perhaps they were arrested for their own preaching activities. He had been grabbed by the angry mob in Ephesus and dragged into the arena during the riot there (Acts 19:29).

Aristarchus was a Jewish believer (Col. 4:11) from Thessalonica who traveled with Paul when he took the financial gift to the needy saints in Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). He at least began the journey with Paul from Caesarea to Rome (Acts 27:2), so he may have gone through the shipwreck with Paul. Tradition says that he was martyred under Nero in Rome (D. E. Hiebert, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], ed. by Merrill C. Tenney, 1:302).

Mark: We learn here (Col. 4:10) that he was a cousin of Barnabas. It’s surprising, but encouraging, to see him on Paul’s team. You’ll recall that Mark had deserted Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13). When Barnabas insisted on giving Mark another chance on the second journey, it led to a split between him and Paul, who was sharply opposed to taking a deserter with them (Acts 15:36-41). But here, twelve years later, Paul tells the Colossians to welcome Mark without reservation.

Jesus, called Justus: Colossians 4:11 is all we know about him. He was a Jew whom Paul calls, “a fellow worker for the kingdom of God.” Along with the other two Jews, Mark and Aristarchus, Paul says that Jesus Justus had been an encouragement to him.

Epaphras: We’ve already met him (Col. 1:7-8). He was probably converted and discipled during Paul’s extended stay in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-10). He then returned to his home town of Colossae and planted the church there, as well as in the neighboring Laodicea and Hierapolis. When problems with false teachers arose, Epaphras went to Rome to get counsel from Paul, who calls him (Col. 4:12), “a bondslave of Jesus Christ,” and commends him for his prayers and concern for these three churches.

Luke: “The beloved physician”: it is only here that we learn that Luke was a doctor. We can deduce that he was a Gentile, since Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus were the only team members “from the circumcision” (although some scholars argue that the phrase is not identical with “Jewish”). Luke was the only Gentile author in the New Testament, writing almost one-fourth of it (Douglas Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and Philemon [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 347). He accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, including his shipwreck on the way to Rome. He was the only worker with Paul near the end of his second imprisonment as he faced execution (2 Tim. 4:11).

Demas: It is striking that Paul says nothing to commend him, in contrast with the others. In Philemon (24), written just before Colossians, Paul calls him a fellow worker. Here he says nothing. In 2 Timothy 4:10, he reports sadly, “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Perhaps Paul sensed the seeds of Demas’s disloyalty already. So Demas warns us of the possibility of defection, while Mark encourages us with the hope of restoration for those who have failed.

In addition to the team with Paul in Rome, there are the teams in Colossae and Laodicea. There is Nympha (probably feminine [Moo, p. 349]; some manuscripts have the masculine), who hosted the church in her home. Archippus was probably the son of Philemon (2). He may have been pastoring the church in Colossae during Epaphras’ absence. Paul gently exhorts him to do his ministry.

Looking at this roster, it’s certain that Paul wasn’t the only worker. It was a team effort! That’s the way that it must be. God has gifted every member of the body of Christ and expects us to use our gifts to serve Him (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:7; Eph. 4:7; 1 Pet. 4:10). Benchwarmer is not one of the gifts! So figure out how God wants you to serve Him and get on the playing field!

2. The team consists of men and women from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds.

In our text, Paul mentions three men, Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus, who were his only fellow workers “from the circumcision,” obviously, Jews. Presumably, the rest that he names were Gentiles. The racial divide between these groups in the first century was radical, but in Christ, it was erased. He mentions men from opposite ends of the professional spectrum: Luke, the physician, and Onesimus, the slave. Paul instructs the church to have his letter read to the entire congregation (Col. 4:16). Probably some in Colossae were not able to read, but they were on the team. So it was a diverse team that included Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, and educated and uneducated.

We saw this in Colossians 3:11, where Paul says that in the one new man (the church), “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.” Part of the glory of the church is that it is made up of these different types of people, who in the world would often would be opposed to one another. But because of the gospel, we’re all one in Christ.

In The Compelling Community [Crossway], Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop argue that churches often create impediments to displaying our gospel-centered diversity by grouping people based on natural similarities. We organize age-graded Sunday school classes, small groups based on shared stages in life (singles, young marrieds, mothers of young children, seniors, etc.), men’s and women’s groups, etc. We design services for those who prefer traditional music and those who like contemporary music. But the danger of this approach, they argue, is “that it obscures the supernatural diversity that the gospel produces” (p. 79). They’re not saying that all such groups are wrong. Rather, they’re arguing that there should be relationships “where you’re only friends because you’re Christians, without any worldly explanation” (ibid.).

I encourage you to befriend people who come to this church toward whom you would not naturally gravitate. Have them over for dinner. Share your stories of how you came to know Christ. On Sundays, deliberately look for people who are “not your type,” and welcome them. In heaven, you will be with people (Rev. 7:9) “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” You may as well get to know them now! We’re all on the same team!

3. The team is the family of God.

Paul the once-zealous Jew calls the Gentile Tychicus, “our beloved brother” (Col. 4:7). He calls the converted slave, Onesimus (Col. 4:9), a “beloved brother.” In verse 15, he asks the Colossian believers to “greet the brethren who are in Laodicea.” These terms show us that the church is the family of God. This is reinforced in the New Testament by the truth that we who believe in Christ are born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:3). The Bible also says that we are adopted into God’s family (Rom. 8:15). So we are brothers and sisters to one another in the Lord.

Today, we tend to think of the church as a building: “I go to church at 123 S. Beaver Street.” Or you’ll hear, “Kids, don’t run in the church! This is God’s house!” But no building is God’s house. The people who meet in the building are His temple. He doesn’t dwell in buildings, but in His people. The early church met in homes, not in church buildings. Paul refers (Col. 4:15) to “Nympha and the church that is in her house.” Philemon also hosted a church in his house in Colossae (Philemon 2; cf., also, Rom. 16:5, 23; 1 Cor. 16:19). Churches did not own buildings to meet in until the middle of the third century (Peter O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary: Colossians-Philemon [Zondervan], p. 256).

This is not to argue that we should go back to meeting exclusively in homes, which has both pros and cons. But it is to say that we need to view the church as people and the people in a local church as our brothers and sisters. While we should take care of the facilities that God has given us to meet in, the buildings aren’t the church. Born again people are the church family.

4. Every team member is a servant/slave of Jesus Christ.

Paul refers to Tychicus (Col. 4:7) as a “faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord.” “Bond-servant” would better be translated “bond-slave.” Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus are (Col. 4:11), “fellow workers for the kingdom of God.” Epaphras was (Col. 4:12), “a bondslave of Jesus Christ.” Archippus (Col. 4:17) did not choose the ministry as a career. Rather, he received his ministry in the Lord. He was drafted!

None of these workers were serving Paul. They, along with him, were all servants and slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. What Paul wrote to the Colossian slaves is true of every person who knows Christ and serves Him (Col. 3:24): “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” That sounds basic, and yet it’s overlooked by so many! If you serve in any capacity in this church, you shouldn’t be doing it to serve me or anyone on staff. You shouldn’t do it to serve this church. You should do it to serve Christ! You should receive your ministry from Him and render your service as unto Him. He bought you with His blood, so you serve Him as your Master.

“Servant” and “slave” are both used to describe believers (Col. 4:7). In his book, Slave [Thomas Nelson], John MacArthur argues (pp. 15-16) that most Bible translations have mistranslated the Greek word for “slave,” softening it to “servant.” But there’s a difference. Servants were hired hands. They had some freedom to choose who they worked for. But slaves were owned. They didn’t choose their masters; their masters chose them. They had no rights. They couldn’t quit and find other work if they didn’t like the working conditions. MacArthur sums up (p. 22, italics his): “… to be a Christian is to be Christ’s slave.” He owns us; we work for Him.

So, the team is not a one-man-show, but a group effort. It consists of men and women from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds. The team is the family of God. And every member of the team is a servant/slave of Jesus Christ.

5. The team is focused on prayer and the Word with the aim of helping every member stand mature in Christ.

Paul mentions (Col. 4:12) how Epaphras was “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” “Perfect” means “mature” or “complete.” It’s the same word Paul used in Colossians 1:28, where he says that he proclaimed Christ so that he might “present every man complete in Christ.” “The will of God” (Col. 4:12) does not refer to discovering divine direction, such as, “What career should I pursue?” Rather, it refers to how God wants us to live as revealed in His Word. Paul prayed the same thing (Col. 1:9), “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” God’s will for us is revealed in His Word.

Paul proclaimed Christ by preaching and teaching God’s Word, our only source for knowing Christ (John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44). He also emphasized the Word in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another ….” The importance of God’s Word is also implied when Paul tells the Colossians to read this letter among them and have it also read in the church of Laodicea, as well as to read his letter that was coming from Laodicea. Paul viewed his own letters as divinely inspired Scripture (1 Cor. 7:12, 40; cf. 2 Pet. 3:15-16).

The letter to Laodicea could have been Ephesians, which some scholars think was a circular letter to several churches in that area (J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [Zondervan], pp. 244, 274-300). Or, it may have been a letter now lost, which the Holy Spirit did not choose to include in the New Testament canon. There is at least one other lost letter, which Paul wrote to the Corinthians before he wrote 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9). But the point is, whatever ministry we do for the Lord must be focused on His Word. It is our only source for knowing Him and knowing how to please Him.

Coupled with God’s Word is the importance of prayer. Paul prayed often for the Colossians (1:3, 9), but here (Col. 4:12-13) he commends Epaphras for his prayers. Although the English text doesn’t reveal it, the Greek words Paul uses to describe Epaphras’ prayer life are military terms. “Laboring earnestly” is the verb agonidzo, (we get “agony from it), which meant to wrestle in hand-to-hand combat. The word translated “deep concern” was used for the pain of struggling in battle. It emphasizes the effort involved. Both words show that serving the Lord is not a Sunday school picnic. We’re engaged in combat with the unseen forces of darkness who are intent on destroying the Lord’s work and His people (Eph. 6:10-20; 1 Pet. 5:8).

What does Epaphras’ prayer mean, that the Colossians would stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God? What does Christian maturity look like? Maturity includes being wise and discerning. Mature people are spiritually and emotionally stable, marked by the fruit of the Spirit. But there is especially one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit which runs as a thread through these verses: faithfulness. A mature Christian is a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. Paul mentions it specifically of Tychicus and Onesimus (Col. 4:7, 9). It is implied of Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus Justus, Epaphras, and Luke. The Lord wants us to be faithful servants.

As a pastor, I especially need to remind myself of this. We live in a day when success is defined in terms of fame and numbers. I constantly hear about superstar pastors who speak all over the world, telling how they built their church from zero to 10,000 members. Attend their seminar or buy their latest book and I, too, can succeed! It’s easy to start feeling that I’m not a success because I don’t pastor a large church and I haven’t written a pile of best-selling books.

But the test of success with the Lord is faithfulness to the ministry He has entrusted to you. The key question is not, “How many attend my church?” but “Are the ones I’m entrusted to serve becoming mature in Christ?” Jesus never said, “Well done, good and famous servant.” Faithfulness is what counts with Him. My desire is to see each of you being faithful to the Lord in your walk with Him and in the sphere of service He has given you.

6. The team has members who often disappoint us.

There is a sober dose of reality in Paul’s final greetings. There is encouragement with Mark, who started by failing but ended faithfully. At first, he bailed out on Paul, but now, he’s at Paul’s side in Rome. During Paul’s final imprisonment, he wrote to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:11), “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”

But then there’s Demas, a fellow-worker alongside Mark, Aristarchus, and Luke (Philemon 24). But later, he deserted Paul because he loved this present world (2 Tim. 4:10). Also, if Paul could look into the future, he would have known that the church of Laodicea, which seemed to be healthy in his day, just thirty years later would be so self-sufficient and lukewarm that the Lord threatened to spew them out of His mouth (Rev. 3:14-22).

If you’re serving the Lord, don’t be surprised if some of your teammates disappoint you. Judas betrayed Jesus, and the other eleven deserted Him when He was arrested. Paul was disappointed with Demas and with others. You will have disappointments with fellow workers. I’ve seen some who get hurt when others are unfaithful or betray their trust. Rather than dealing with it as Paul did by looking to the Lord, they end up dropping out of ministry or even out of the church. Don’t let that happen to you! People will disappoint you, but God never will.

Conclusion

A young reporter once asked Bud Wilkinson, coach of the powerful Oklahoma Sooner football team, “Coach, how has the game of football contributed to the health and fitness of America?”

To the reporter’s shock, Wilkinson responded, “It has not contributed at all!”

“What do you mean?” stammered the reporter.

Wilkinson said, “I define football as 22 men on the field, desperately needing rest, and 22,000 fans in the stadium, desperately needing exercise!”

That should not describe the church! The local church is a team where every member should be devoted to serve Christ. If you’ve trusted in Him, you’re on the team, and you’re not a benchwarmer. Christianity is not a spectator sport! He wants you on the playing field! Use your gifts to serve the Lord. As you do, this church will grow to maturity in Christ.

Application Questions

  1. What are some practical implications of being a slave of Jesus Christ? What is the difference between a slave and a volunteer?
  2. What steps must a bench warmer take to get involved in serving the Lord? How does one discover his/her spiritual gifts?
  3. Larry Richards has said that we must recognize every interpersonal relationship as a setting for ministry. Discuss the implications of this.
  4. Have you been burned by other Christians while you were serving the Lord? How should you process this?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life

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